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I’ve been asked the question, “Can I get stronger while losing weight,” quite frequently and I’ve always answered it with, “It depends.” First, I’d like to clarify that the majority of the time an athlete is asking if he or she can put on muscle while losing body fat.

As Travis Mash points out in the article, there are a few questions to ask:

  1. What’s your body fat percentage?
  2. Are you an efficient lifter with perfect technique?
  3. Do you really need to get stronger?
  4. Since weightlifting is a weight class sport, I’ll add a 4th one – Where is your weight now and will leaning out get you into that weight class?

Much like Travis, I’ve heard from many different coaches that the optimal body fat percentage for weightlifters are:

  • 8-15% for Men
  • 12-18% for Women

Please note this is a little different than the body fat range Travis gives in his article. However, he states the same thing I’ve always said, which is, “Depending where you’re physically at, you will have a point where getting stronger and adding muscle while achieving fat loss is easier than others. As Travis points out, most athletes will alternate phases where the emphasis is getting stronger and adding muscle (some call it mass, massing, bulk, bulking, and all the other buzzwords and terminology) – which I refer to as the performance phase; and a fat-loss phase (leaning out, cut, dieting, etc, it all means the same thing). Why do I call it the performance phase instead? Well, it implies you want to put on good weight (aka muscle mass). Why do I call it the fat-loss phase? Well, the goal is you only want to lose body fat and too severe of dieting or restriction means you’re also going to hinder the performance you’ve just built up.

Here are a couple examples I have:

Coach and Mash Mafia Weightlifting athlete, Jason Bongard, is stuck in a unique position where he’s about 7-8% body fat and walking around at about 88-89kg. His weight likes to stick there; he’s really strong; and has some technique work he can do to improve. What would my recommendation be?

Jason doesn’t really have any room to lose weight, getting leaner probably isn’t possible, but he’s also not far from his weight class of 85kg. Currently, he can eat just about anything in site and his weight doesn’t really move. He is getting stronger, bit-by-bit. However, his biggest area of improvement is technique. So my suggestion is for him to just keep doing what he’s doing and to probably dehydrate down to 85kg for weigh ins.

In contrast, we have Mamou, who just competed at 94kg, but is tall and lean, probably 7-8% body fat. His weight is typically around 96-97kg. He has technique he can work on, is getting stronger despite hit weight not moving. But, unlike Jason his numbers have to keep climbing to get into contention for AO & Nationals. So what would my recommendation be?

Mamou, doesn’t have any room to lose weight either. He’s not going to get any leaner, and despite being close to his weight class, he’s too light for his height with regard to the sport of weightlifting so injury might be of concern. My recommendation for him would be to work on hypertrophy to continue to fill out 105 and eventually 105+ and work on imperfections in his technique. Don’t get me wrong, Mamou is strong, but for his height and weight, he’s not strong enough. Much like Jason, he spent a lot of time to get strong and building up that metabolism (all that muscle is essentially your metabolism), so he’s going to be a “hard gainer.” The question is, will he be able to eat enough?

Tri is a little bit of a different story. He’s already a national level athlete and medalist. However, to keep him healthy we moved him up to the 69kg class. Currently he sits at 70-71kg, but he’s probably between 13-14% body fat. He needs to get stronger for his weight class, but his technique is some of the best there is. What would my recommendation be?

Tri is an in an excellent candidate to “cycle” his macros or caloric intake to keep the body weight around where he is currently. Over the long run, he’ll likely lean out to about 68kg, then go back up to 71-72kg. Then lean out to 69kg before slowly going back up to 72/73kg. If done correctly, this will allow him to be a very solid 72/73kg. This is why we say his best weightlifting days are still ahead of him in this weight class!

To read the original post by Travis Mash, please click here.